Cheese Essay / Cheese Fieldtrips / Cheese Making Recipes / Cheese Thought

Nigerian Dwarf Goat Cheese Tomme

The Recipe


2 gallons goat milk

1/2 teaspoon calcium chloride

1/4 teaspoon MM10 direct set starter culture

8 drops of microbial vegetable rennet (2X as powerful)

1/4 cup filtered water

cheese salt

Pour the milk gently into a stainless steel, heavy bottomed pot.  Gently heat the milk to 88 degrees F.  Add the direct set culture to the milk and mix thoroughly with a chopstick.  Let sit on stove top with heat off for 20 to 30 minutes.

Dilute the rennet in 1/4 cup water.  Add the rennet-water mixture to the milk, stirring thoroughly with the chopstick.  Be sure to use up and down strokes when mixing to ensure that the rennet is evenly distributed.

Let sit for 1 hour until the curd has formed.  You can tell that the curd has formed by sticking your fingertip in the surface.  If the curd makes a clean break with no milky residue, your curd is coagulated!

Cut the curd with a long thin knife into 1/2 inch cubes on the surface.   Mix the curd with a spoon in order to break it up into small, even pieces.

Gently heat the curd to 104 degrees F, while mixing frequently to ensure that the curd cubes do not amass into a huge blob.  The curd should heat up over a period of 20-30 minutes, ideally.

Ladle the curd into tomme molds lined with cheese cloth.  You will be using a knitting technique.  Layer curds on the bottom, knitting them with you fingertips to expel more whey and to create an intricate curd structure.  Then ladle a second layer on top, making sure to knit the second layer into the first.  This process will continue until you have filled all of the molds.

Flip the cheese in the mold in order to ensure a smooth, even surface on both sides of the tomme.  Put about 4 pounds of weight on each tomme (one full gallon jug).

Recipe yields about two small tommes.

After pressing and flipping every 4 or 5 hours, the next morning, the tommes can come out of their molds to be salted with cheese salt on all sides.  Make sure to flip the cheese frequently, as additional whey will build up on the surface after salting.  This whey can be trapped on the surface, making the surface curds more acidic and susceptible to surface bacterial development.

Age in an environment of 50-55 degrees and 90-98 % humidity.

Flip once every day for the first week.  Afterwards, flip and brush the surface once every week until the cheese is ready to be eaten.  This will take two to three months total.

The Story


 verb \kō-ˈa-gyə-ˌlāt\

transitive verb
: to cause to become viscous or thickened into a coherent mass : curdleclot (MICRO COAGULATION)
: to gather together or form into a mass or group (MACRO COAGULATION)

Last Friday, I finally was able to make the trek up to Lexington, after a couple blizzard delays.  

As soon as I walked in the door, I threw all my recipes onto the table, and our endless cheese banter began.  Halé led me in circles around her production.  Her wine cooler off the kitchen is filled to the brim with aging goodies of all different shapes, sizes, and aesthetics.  Her refrigerator in the basement has gallon sized Ball jars of each goat’s milk and the date milked.  Halé is adamant about keeping the milks separate, and with valid point!  

“Each milk has slightly different components: butter fat, their preference of diet, and their individual characteristics.”  

The most mind blowing topic that we chatted about after we had carefully poured each individual Ball jar into the stainless steel pot to mix, was how Halé was so in tune with each of her goat girls, that she could taste their personalities in the milk.  The psyche of the animal comes through when tasting this intimate product that she produces.  

This tasting of milk spiraled into a more grandiose conversation about contextualizing experience and the power within that.  Our connection to product through social context is the key to successful marketing and sales when dealing directly with the consumer.  

Halé comes more from a healing perspective.  If a person is very high strung, perhaps they should eat the cheese eaten by the slow, sweet, butter fat rich Lycian.  Lycian always trails at the back of the herd.

When sweeping through her basement, we started exploring ideal cave environments for our tomme.  We both agreed: the smaller the space, the more control you have on humidity level which is essential for making a good quality tomme…98%!

Halé talked of how she was excited to have an investigative partner in the craft, as the animals take up most of her free time.  She has made cheese through intuition, because time never allowed her to investigate further.

“But I can’t make cheese without having animals.  I tried it once, I was part of a local goat milk cooperative.  The picture wasn’t complete.”

I nodded my head emphatically in agreement.  This is the aspect of cheese that so many of us our lacking.  We do not have exposure to the animals, the creatures that nourish us directly.  Americans love cheese, it is a crucial part of our diet…but how many of us know what cheese really is?  How can something so central to our diet remain such a mystery?

The cheese making process is very intuitive, but my investigative nature wants to connect it to science, especially because in order to coagulate the milk, we added calcium chloride, freeze dried starter cultures, and microbial vegetable rennet.  The cerebral and the intuitive dance beautifully in this craft.***(SEE BELOW FOR SCIENCE INFO)

After we had added calcium chloride, starter culture, and rennet, Halé and I decided to take the goat girls for a walk. Halé argues that the animals need the daily exercise and physical engagement just like humans. When goats exercise and interact with their environment, their stress levels stay lower. Stress, hormones, and emotions also affect the milk composition.

We ventured first within the cement paved trails around the city center of Lexington. We averted puddles, having to climb on huge snow mounds with the herd. The goats hate getting their feet wet. I held Lycian’s leash the entire time, and Halé believed that it comforted her, as she always worries about being left behind.

There was nothing to forage at this time, except for poisonous plants.  

I asked Halé ,”How do they protect themselves from poisonous plants when they are roaming in the wild?”

Halé responded, “Most of these poisonous plants are non-native, and not the natural forage of the land.”

This made me think, How can we make our land more accessible for foraging animals in general?

Every person we came across nearly stopped in their tracks. A most common response was, “I thought they were dogs and then I realized, no, they aren’t!” Halé started pointing out how each person was affected by the goats, as it revolutionized their framework of what animals can be seen in the public eye.

We delved into my personal passion for cheese. “I love the concept of coagulation, as a mass coming together and creating something nourishing and tasty.”

The walk then took on a coagulant theme. As we walked and I shared my cheese making journey with Halé , the milk was sitting on the stove top, coagulating into a seamless mass of silken curd…the ultimate MICRO COAGULATION.

We decided to head back home through the city center to avoid the puddles.

The reaction from people was overwhelming. Children and old women alike were squealing with excitement, we were surrounded by curious crowds who wanted us to unveil the mysteries of the goat species in as many words as we could give them.

I fell silent at this point and let Halé take main stage, her enthusiasm for her goats and for sharing the possibilities of pastoral lifestyle within the suburban environment was apparent. She exchanged email addresses and asked the aggressively interested folk if they wanted to milk. Most of these folk were middle aged women who were emphatic and chatty.

I was overwhelmed. There is so much for people to learn about our relationship to animals and the earth. And people are hungry for the inspiration. It saddened and excited me at the same time. I’d have to say I was smiling a bit like the Mona Lisa the entire time. I held some passionate secret close to my heart and listened to the suburbanites.

This is an open minded town with an earthy interest. But who will teach?

I didn’t want to feel heavy with the burden of being a leader within this MACRO COAGULATION of people, but the masses had been forming before my eyes ever since I delved into the field. I knew I had to make something of it. This gathering in the city center was representative of a calling that had led me across the seas to Europe and back again, from coast to coast, from urban to rural to suburban. I just had to follow it.

Now, I don’t want to make this seem like a religious journey to Mecca, but there is something to be said about the land of Milk and Honey. Once you truly follow the Cheese, or Cheesus as we jokingly called it on the farm in Washington, you realize the meditative aspects of this craft that it is an endless trek of humble work, long hours, and love love love.

All for what?

The potential to nourish one’s community in a way where each individual knows their biology, their physical needs as connected to their emotional needs, a holistic sense of self. Because we are all searching for how to feel whole.

After feeling all these sentiments, we knew it was time to venture back to the curd that had MICRO COAGULATED back at the home front.

We cut the curd, heated the curd, ladled and knit it into molds, while simultaneously chatting incessantly about technique.

***Does calcium chloride increase acidity (pH) levels?

American Farmstead Cheese:

Milk pH.  The pH of milk at the time of renneting strongly affects both the enzymatic and nonenzymatic phases of coagulation.  You’ll recall that the pH is a measure of acidity or, more specifically, hydrogen ion concentration.  The lower the pH value, the more acidic the sample.  Neutrality occurs at pH 7.0.  Increases in pH value above 7.0 indicate an increase in alkalinity, whereas decreases below 7.0 indicate increasing acidity.  When milk leaves the udder, the pH is normally around 6.5; it will increase slightly to between 6.6 and 6.7 upon cooling.  Both the enzymatic and nonenzymatic phases phases of coagulation are acclerated as milk pH decreases in the range of 6.7 to 6.0, resulting in progressively shorter coagulation times and increasing curd firmness.  At the other extreme, the pH of milk may increase to 7.0 or higher for animals that are near the end of their lactation cycle, or for animals that develop mastitis.  The addition of large amounts of water to milk may also cause the pH to increase.  High pH wreaks havoc with the enzymatic phase of coagulation because rennet enzymes are very sensitive to alkaline pH and progressively lose activity when the pH exceeds 6.6, resulting in long coagulation times.  To make matters worse, high pH reduces the level of ionic calcium, which impeded the nonenzymatic phase and contributes to slow coagulation and a weak and fragile set.  Some improvement can be gained by adding calcium chloride to milk with high pH, because calcium chloride both lowers the pH slightly and contributes calcium ions.

The pH of milk at renneting is influenced by the type of starter culture used – for example, bulk-set versus direct set starter.  In earlier times so-called bulk starter was prepared by the cheese maker using milk or sometimes whey as the growth medium.  The cheese maker inoculated streilized milk with starter bacteria from a mother culture and then held the milk at a good growth temperature.  The starter bacteria  then reproduced to a maximum concentration of around 10X9 viable bacteria per milliliter of milk and, in the process, fermented lactose to lactic acid until the pH drecreased to about 4.6.  The resulting bulk-set culture was thus quite acidic and rich in calcium ions (due to the low pH).  When added to the cheese milk at rates typically ranging from around 1 to 2 percent of the weight of the milk, the acidic culture caused the milk’s pH to immediately decrease by around 0.1 to 0.2 units.  The combination of decreased milk pH and increased calcium ion concentration virtually guaranteed a short coagulation time and firm coagulum.

Today, however, traditional bulk-set cultures have been replaced by newer, more concentrated cultures that are far more active.  For farmstead cheese makers the most common forms of starter now used are direct-set cultures.  These are commercially available as a frozen liquid  concentrate or freeze dried powder, and are added directly to the cheese milk.  Direct-set cultures are hundreds, even thousands, of times more concentrated than the traditional bulk-set culture; the amount added to the cheese milk os extremely small.  Consequently, the pH of the cheese milk does not decrease and the level of free calcium ions does not decrease and the level of free calcium ions does not increase when direct set starter is added.  Furthermore, direct-set cultures have a longer lag period between the time they are added to the milk and the time they begin to produce lactic acid.  When direct set cultures are used, then, it is not unusual for the pH of the cheese milk to remain unchanged (around pH 6.6 to 6.7) at renneting, resulting in longer coagulation times and weaker sets than occur with a traditional bulk-set starter.  Thus minor problems with slow coagulation and weak set are probably more commonplace for cheese makers now than in the heyday of the traditional bulk-set starter.  Again, the addition of calcium chloride may help to compensate for poor coagulation when necessary.

Mesophilic vs. Thermophilic Cultures

American Farmstead Cheese:

Mesophilic: Two principal ones are Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis and L. l. ssp.cremoris, grow best around 77 to 86, are inhibited by cooking temperatures of around 102 (cremoris) to 104 (lactis) or higher, and are used alone or in combination with one another..  There are two specialized mesophilic starters-Cit+Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis,  often referred to as diacetylactis, and Leuconostoc mesenteroides ssp. cremoris– that are able to ferment naturally occurring citrate in in milk and produce carbon dioxide gas and diacetyl, a pleasant buttery aroma compound, as by-products.  These aroma- and gas- producing mesophiles are used in certain eye-forming cheeses that require an open texture (such as Havarti and blue mold types) Cit+ Lactococcus vigorously ferments lactose to lactic acid and produces a high amount of carbon dioxide gas.  In contrast, Leuconostoc produces carbon dioxide gas more slowly and grows poorly in milk; therefore it is always used in combination with a non-citrate-fermenting Lactococcus lactis culture.

Thermophilic: Include Streptococcus thermophilisLactobacillus delbrueckii ssp.bulgaricus, and L. helveticus, prefer warmer temperatures, growing optimally in the range of around 95 to 105 degrees.  They are able to survive at temperatures as high as 130 to 140.  The thermophilic streptococci and lactobacilli are often used in combination with one another because they share a complex synergy that enables them to produce lactic acid much more.

The Role of Whey in Forming the Curd

American Farmstead Cheese:

Draining the whey and/or dipping the curds initiates the permanent separation of whey from the curds and allows the curd particles to coalesce and fuse together into a continuous curd mass that will ultimately form the body of the final cheese.

Draining and/or dipping accomplishes the permanent removal of calcium phosphate.  In fact, the amount of calcium phosphate retained in the final cheese- which greatly affects its characteristics and quality- is chiefly determined by the extent of losses to the whey up to and during draining….Whether or not the curd holds onto its calcium phosphate is determined by the acidity profile up to the time of draining.  When the pH at draining is high, for example, in the making of Swiss type cheeses, very little of the calcium phosphate in the curd is lost to the whey.  The final cheese, therefore, remains rich in calcium phosphate.  As the draining pH decreases, an increasingly larger portion of the total curd calcium phosphate is lost to the whey, and so the resulting cheese in lower in calcium phosphate.  The bottom line is that the pH at the start of draining is a critical control parameter for the low-moisture cheeses that are cooked at moderate to high temperatures…Inconsistent pH at draining time is a definite no-no, and is likely to contribute to inconsistent cheese quality…Indeed, an essential requirement of the starter culture is that it produce acid according to the correct schedule, day in and day out.

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